Last Updated on September 12, 2021 by Jim Ferri
The top places in France to visit are scattered all around this beautiful country…go for the sights, the food, the wine…
Estimated reading time: 22 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Many travelers, especially those visiting for the first time, wonder where to go in France. Yes, you do need to visit Paris, since it is deservedly renowned for being one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in the world, which is why many movies have been filmed there.
But go beyond Paris and burrow into the little towns and hamlets of the countryside. Visit a score of regional French cities such as Lyon, Bordeaux, Nice, Rouen, and others. Undoubtedly you’ll quickly realize each region is deliciously different in its culture, food, and ambiance, providing a wonderful French feast.
To see the most fascinating places in France, visit the landing beaches in Normandy, browse the colorful street markets of Provence, see the chateaux in the Loire Valley, visit the bistros of Biarritz, take a cooking class in Lyon, or if you’d rather, just enjoy the café culture and joie de vivre so important to French life in myriad towns and cities all over the country.
A Primer: Top 10 Places in France
Here’s a primer on the top 10 places in France, all tourist-tested by other travelers. For each we’ve provided information on how to get there, where to dine and stay, and where to find more information.
With each we used specific criteria. To ensure the property was upscale, we only selected 4-star hotels since they provide much of the cachet of a five-star without the added cost. We also only looked at those hotels located in the center of a city, where most travelers prefer to stay.
Moreover, a hotel could not be a “sponsored” recommendation (basically, an advertisement) and must have received the highest ratings by travelers. In those cities where a hotel could not meet a specific requirement, we matched it as close as possible.
In the hotel recommendations for each OTA, the prices you’ll see are the highest and lowest prices of the hotels recommended. Whenever an OTA could not provide us with five hotels based on our criteria, that is noted in the list of hotels.
France is one of the most incredible countries in the world for travelers. All things considered transportation-wise, whenever possible try to travel by car to have more opportunities to wander off the beaten path.
Read on, and select a place to indulge yourself in beautiful France.
Paris, #1 of the Best Places in France to Visit
Undoubtedly, from the very first moment you see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, you’re mesmerized by Paris. It’s a magical city and one of the most important places to visit in France, if not all of Europe.
With such famous landmarks the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Seine and countless other spots, Paris is probably the best-known place in the world, even for those who never visited it.
But there’s more to Paris than just famous landmarks. In addition, every arrondissement, or neighborhood, beats with the rhythm of a country village, giving each a unique personality.
By all means, experience art and culture in the city’s great museums. Scale its iconic monuments and while away the afternoon at a café or bistro on the Left Bank. And when all its world-renown attractions begin to feel overwhelming, you know it’s time just to walk about aimlessly. In any case get lost on its charming back streets where you’ll discover the Paris of the Parisians.
It’s a great city to visit any time of year…even as Cole Porter suggests, “in the summer when it sizzles” or “in winter when it drizzles.”
How To Get There:
You can reach Paris by air from almost every city in the world, as well as by train from many European capitals and cities.
Upscale Hotels in Paris
Booking.com($173-292): Le Marais Prestige / Hotel Ducs de Bourgogne / Relais Hôtel du Vieux Paris / Hotel Parc Saint Severin – Esprit de France / Hôtel de Joséphine Bonaparte
TripAdvisor.com ($141-286): Hotel Malte / Hotel de JoBo / Hotel Bradford Elysees – Astotel / Secret de Paris – Hotel & Spa / Hotel Monge
Renowned Restaurants in Paris
Pierre Gagnaire / Le Pré Catelan / Arpège / Guy Savoy / L’Ambroisie … more top-rated restaurants in Paris.
A Top Place in France for History Lovers: Normandy
Normandy is an area that has played a critical role in history ever since local hero William the Conqueror set sail for England from there in the 11th century. Its most famous moment in history, however, came in 1944 as the Allies stormed its beaches.
While many American travelers are attracted to Normandy by the D-Day beaches, once they arrive they find much more. Beyond those beaches, you find a pleasant French countryside of rolling hills speckled with cows and stone farmhouses, and little villages and cities replete with half-timbered houses and beautiful churches. All in all, it’s a beautiful region of France
There’s a lot to do in Normandy, however, which makes it one of the best places in France to visit. In addition to the beaches, visit fantastic Mont Saint-Michel, an ancient island-Abbey that escaped the ravages of World War II. See Rouen and its beautiful old town, as well as the world-famous Bayeux Tapestry in the Centre Guillaume-le-Conquérant in Bayeux. And don’t forget to enjoy Normandy’s famous foods.
Visit Honfleur, a beautiful little town whose harbor is filled with fishing boats and designer yachts. It’s an especially good place to take a break for lunch or just to wander about. And although it’s not quite “western” Normandy, you may want to visit Giverny where Monet painted his famous water lilies. It’s about halfway between Rouen and Paris.
How To Get There
Normandy is an easy drive from Paris via rental car. You can also reach it via rail from Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris, to Bayeux in Normandy (2½ hours, $35-80). From Bayeux take a day trip to the famous Normandy Beaches. In order to make the best use of your time, it’s often best to book the entire trip in advance in Paris to save time in Normandy.)
With a rental car it’s also worthwhile to take a 2–3-day trip through Normandy, returning to Paris via the beautiful Loire Valley where you can visit the spectacular chateaux.
You’ll also find group day trips or multi-day trips from Paris via bus.
Upscale Hotels in Normandy (Caen)
Booking.com ($127-179): Best Western Plus Le Moderne / Hotel Restaurant Le Dauphin et Le Spa du Prieuré / Mercure Caen Centre Port De Plaisance / (Only three hotels meeting criteria)
TripAdvisor.com ($79-163): Novotel Caen Cote de Nacre / Best Western Plus Hotel Moderne / Mercure Caen Centre Port de Plaisance / Hotel Bristol / Ibis Styles Caen Centre Gare
Renowned Restaurants in Normandy
Le Moulin à Vent (Saint-Germain-des-Vaux) / Le Landemer (Urville-Nacqueville) / La Marine (Barneville-Carteret) / Le Patio (Cherbourg-en-Cotentin) … more top-rated restaurants in Normandy.
The Chateaux of the Loire Valley, One of the Most Beautiful Places in France
The Loire Valley is quintessential France. Above all, it’s an area of spectacular châteaux and vineyards, forest and field, meandering rivers flowing slowly through sleepy villages. It’s all that and even more, making it one of the best places in France to visit.
The Loire is the heart of France, a place from which centuries ago French Kings ruled kingdoms. Some of these towns, such as Amboise, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, famous for their historical significance and their beauty. For many travelers, this beautiful area is high on the list of beautiful places to visit on a trip to France.
Many travelers dream of seeing the chateaux in the Loire Valley and they undoubtedly are the main draw for many tourists here. Nowhere else on earth do you find so many.
Château d’Ussé inspired Sleeping Beauty. It was at Château Chinon during the 100-Year War that Joan of Arc begged the Dauphin to fight the English. Château Villandry still entrances visitors with its ornamental gardens. And the beautiful Château de Cheverny memerizes with its furnishings. By all means don’t miss the incredible feeding of its hounds in the kennel after touring the chateau.
Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the Château at Amboise. The nearby Clos Lucé, his former home, contains models of some of his inventions. But go beyond the châteaux and also visit such places as the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud. It’s the largest medieval abbey in France and where Richard the Lionheart is buried.
How To Get There
While you can take a train from Montparnasse station in Paris to Tours, it’s a long-ish and expensive ($107-160) journey. Unquestionably, it’s a much better idea to take a group tour of the Loire, or better yet, to rent a car and spend an overnight in the region. That way you’ll have the opportunity to choose which chateaux you’d like to see.
Upscale Hotels in the Loire Valley (Tours)
Booking.com ($100-173): Oceania L’Univers Tours / Novotel Tours Centre Gare / Mercure Tours Centre Gare et Congrès / Le Grand Hotel / (Only four hotels meeting criteria)
TripAdvisor.com ($110-161): Chateau Belmont Tours / Hotel L’Univers Tours / Mercure Tours Nord / NOVOTEL Tours Centre Gare / Mercure Tours Sud
Renowned Restaurants in the Loire Valley
Vincent Cuisinier de Campagne (Ingrandes-de-Touraine) / Les Années 30 (Chinon) / La Ciboulette (Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine) / Auberge de la Brenne (Neuillé-le-Lierre) / L’Ascalier (Brou) … more top-rated restaurants in the Loire Valley.
Among France’s Top Places: Elegant Bordeaux and the Aquitaine
An important seaport, Bordeaux is the center of the legendary wine industry of St. Emilion and Médoc. Visit the legendary châteaux in the area but leave time to see many of the other sites in the region.
Bordeaux, the regional capital, is an elegant city of tree-shaded avenues, Gothic churches, stately old merchant’s houses, markets and antique shops that undoubtedly will keep you busy for hours. Not surprisingly, its historic wealth is reflected in the many old beautiful buildings about the city.
Along the Atlantic coast, southwest France has beautiful beaches and a handful of famous resorts. Stylish Biarritz, once a little fishing village, was a favorite of Napoleon III and his Spanish-born wife. It also has Europe’s best surfing.
Dordogne, the home of foie gras, is a land of quiet country roads and gentle hills covered with sunflowers. It’s also renown as the home of prehistoric cave dwellers. You’ll find those sites around the area of Les Eyzies and Lascaux (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
How To Get There
It’s a two-hour train ride to Bordeaux from Paris Montparnasse ($100-140) or a 1½ hour flight from CDG in Paris ($240).
Booking.com ($154-261): Hôtel de Sèze & Spa Bordeaux Centre / Novotel Bordeaux Centre Ville / Hotel Burdigala Bordeaux / Mercure Bordeaux Centre Ville / Best Western Premier HBEO Bordeaux Centre / Hôtel Majestic
TripAdvisor.com ($169-323): Yndohotel / Hotel Le Palais Gallien / Hotel de Seze / InterContinental Bordeaux Le Grand Hotel / Hotel de Tourny
Renowned Restaurants in Bordeaux
Le Clos d’Augusta / Julien Cruège / Soléna / La Table de Montaigne / Racines by Daniel Gallacher … more top-rated restaurants in Bordeaux.
One of the Best Places in France for Oenophiles: Burgundy
To many of the French, Burgundy is the heart and soul of French food and wine. Gastronomically speaking, it is the richest province in the country and undeniably is the place to come if you want to enjoy great wine and fine cuisine in a historic setting. If you love good food and wine this is definitely one of the best places to visit in France.
Its fine wines – from its regions of Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, etc. – are renown throughout the world. The town of Beaune annually hosts a world-famous wine auction.
Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, is now known for mustards, but it was once the capital of the Dukes of Burgundy. Throughout the city are beautiful Renaissance buildings and old Burgundian palaces. It also has a rich cultural life. Experience it viewing the art treasures in the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Musée Magnin.
In Burgundy and you’ll see castles rising from vineyards and medieval churches poking up through rooftops in little villages. By all means, visit a vineyard and chateau. You’ll find many companies throughout the region that will escort you on wine and culinary tours to the great vineyards and chateaux.
How To Get There
From Gare de Lyon in Paris, it’s a comfortable 1½ hour train ride to Dijon ($40-85). It’s a three-hour drive by car or a four-hour bus ride ($20-25).
Best Hotels in Burgundy (Dijon)
TripAdvisor.com ($127-163): Mercure Dijon Centre Clemenceau / Hotel Oceania le Jura / Vertigo Hotel & NUXE Spa / Maison Philippe le Bon / Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge
Booking.com ($83-166): Hostellerie Du Chapeau Rouge / Vertigo | Design Hotels / Oceania Le Jura Dijon / Kyriad Prestige Dijon Centre / Odalys City Dijon Les Cordeliers
Renowned Restaurants in Burgundy
Auberge L’Escale 87 (Villeblevin) / Le Chat (Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire) / Le Martin Bel Air (Saint-Martin-du-Tertre) / Les Cordois Autrement (Avallon) / Spica (Dijon) … more top-rated restaurants in Dijon.
The Top Spot on the Med: Nice and the Riviera
The Côte d’Azur, more commonly known to Americans as the French Riviera, is synonymous with elegance and chic. By all means, put it on your list of the best places to visit in the south of France.
In the Brigitte Bardot-era of the 1950s and 60s, the Riviera was a magnet for everyone who was anyone. Today it still lures travelers not only with its storied elegance but also with its lifestyle and beauty.
In Nice, Belle Époque Mansions line one side of the palm-lined Promenade des Anglais and the famous beach the other. The avenue sweeps along the coast past more chic beaches in Antibes, Cannes, and St-Tropez, all the way to Marseille. Go east instead of you’ll enter tiny Monaco and the casino of Monte Carlo, both associated with an extravagant lifestyle.
Many walk instead down the charming narrow streets of Nice’s Vieille Ville (the Old City). It lures visitors with tiny bistros, fashionable boutiques, and museums such as the Musée Matisse and the Musée Marc Chagall.
In the hills above the Côte d’Azur you’ll find beautiful villages. Visit Grasse (the home of the perfume industry), the walled town of Vence and the enchanting artistic village of St. Paul-de-Vence. It’s a region to enjoy ambiance and art, and food and wine. Its Joie de vivre undeniably makes it one of the best places to visit in France.
How To Get There
It is a 3¾-hour flight to Nice from CDG in Paris. On the other hand, you can also take a comfortable 6-hour high-speed train ride on the TGV to Nice from Gare de Lyon in Paris ($170-230). A 13-hour bus ride will cost $34-41.
Upscale Hotels in Nice
Booking.com ($114-330): Best Western Premier Hotel Roosevelt / Le Meridien Nice / Hotel Le Grimaldi / Best Western Alba / Holiday Inn Nice
TripAdvisor.com ($137-196): Mercure Nice Centre Notre Dame / Hotel Nice Riviera / Hotel Le Grimaldi / Hotel Aston La Scala / Hotel Windsor Nice
Renowned Restaurants on the Côte d’Azur and Beyond
La Rotonde (Nice) / Le Gibolin (Aries) / L’Épuisette (Marseille) / Gaodina (Aix-en-Provence) / Auberge La Treille (Avignon) … more top-rated restaurants in Nice.
Discover More About the Côte d’Azur, One of the Great Places in France
One of the Great Places in France for Gourmandes: Lyon
2000-year-old Lyon is the culinary capital of France, one of the reasons it’s listed as one of the top 10 places in France. Many Parisians travel here on high-speed trains in order to enjoy lunch in one of the city’s many fabulous restaurants.
Set at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Lyon is an intriguing potpourri of ancient and contemporary architecture. By all means, wander the cobblestone lanes of Vieux Lyon, the oldest part of the city. There you’ll be taking a trip through time among centuries-old shops, including old weaver shops from its renowned silk industry. Vieux Lyon is so historically important that it’s on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
Lyons boasts of its cultural life, evident in its outstanding art museums, as well as its excellent shopping. The city’s heritage goes back to when it was known as Lugdunum and was the capital of Gaul. Two Roman theaters have been excavated. You can learn about them and the history of the city at the very good Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine.
The Rhône-Alpes region to the west is a wild and breathtaking part of southeast France, bordering Italy and Switzerland, and Provence to the south. As one might expect, it’s a mecca for skiers and hikers.
How To Get There
It is a 3½-hour flight from Paris to Lyon ($84-320). A much better idea, however, is to go by train instead, aboard the comfortable high-speed TGV. The comfortable two-hour trip will cost $60-120 and leave you in downtown Lyon.
Upscale Hotels in Lyon
TripAdvisor.com ($142-202): Fourviere Hotel / Mercure Lyon Centre Beaux Arts / Hotel Carlton Lyon / Mercure Lyon Centre Plaza Republique / Mercure Lyon Centre Chateau Perrache
Booking.com ($155-196): Hôtel de l’Abbaye / Mercure Lyon Centre Beaux-Arts / Globe Et Cecil / Maison Nô – Hôtel et Rooftop / Hotel Carlton Lyon
Renowned Restaurants in Lyon
Racine, Auberge de l’Île Barbe, Les Boulistes, Têtedoie, Substrat … more top-rated restaurants in Lyon.
A Top Place in France: The Midi-Pyrenees
You’ll find the Midi-Pyrenees to be one of the most varied regions in the country. Its north has wooded valleys and medieval towns and morphs into gently rolling sunflower-covered fields as you move further south. It then changes again as you near Pyrenees and the Spanish border.
Toulouse, the most famous city in the region, was once a stop for pilgrims who passed through on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Today it’s a bustling university city and the center for France’s high-tech aerospace industry. You can tour the plants of Airbus and Aérospatiale. and France’s National Center for Space Research is also located here.
In spite of hi-tech Toulouse, many of the rural villages in the region retain their medieval charm. That’s the reason many travelers put it on their list of places to visit in France. The small village of Conques, also an important pilgrimage center, retains much of its early Middle-Ages buildings. People love Cahors for its medieval Pont Valentre Bridge, one of the most beautiful in Europe. The medieval hilltop village of Cordes-sur-Ciel has numerous ancient half-timbered buildings, as well as great views across the surrounding countryside.
Lourdes, one of Catholicism’s greatest shrines, is nestled in a valley about two hours southwest of Toulouse. An hour northeast of the city is Albi, the boyhood home of artist Toulouse-Lautrec. There you’ll find the finest collection of the artist’s cabaret-inspired canvases.
How To Get There
It’s a 3½-hour flight from CDG in Paris to Toulouse ($70-193). The train (TGV) from Paris’s Montparnasse takes 4½ hours at a cost of $140-200. An 8¾-hour bus ride is $24-50.
Upscale Hotels in Toulouse
Booking.com ($86-171): Grand Hotel de l’Opera / Mercure Toulouse Centre Wilson Capitole / Novotel Toulouse Centre Wilson / Villa du Taur / Hotel Ours Blanc-Wilson
TripAdvisor.com ($138-189): Crowne Plaza Toulouse / Mercure Toulouse Centre Wilson Capitole / Novotel Toulouse Centre Wilson / Novotel Toulouse Centre Compans Caffarelli / Mercure Toulouse Centre Compans
Renowned Restaurants in Toulouse
Le Cénacle, Émile, Stéphane Tournié – Les Jardins de l’Opéra, Hedone, Le Bibent … more top-rated restaurants in Toulouse.
Another of France’s Top Places: Languedoc-Roussillon
Languedoc-Roussillon, another of the best places in the country, lies on the coast of the Mediterranean between Provence and Spain. This is where France and Spain meld. People love bullfighting, wines are robust, and Barcelona inspires the region as much as does Paris. It is French Catalonia and shares a common language and culture with the Spanish region.
Since Roussillon is an agricultural area, Languedoc is one of France’s major wine-growing areas. Today long sandy beaches characterize its coastline with little of the tourism development that has enveloped the Côte d’Azur.
The area has many historic cities including Nimes, where there are superb Roman remains, and the walled city of Carcassonne. Further afield are medieval market towns such as Uzès and Pézenas whose narrow streets are home to many artisans’ studios. Along the coast Picasso and Matisse use to visit the town of Collioure.
In Languedoc-Roussillon, you’ll find Le Canal du Midi, the world’s oldest commercial canal and now a UNESCO world heritage site. It was built in the 17th century as one section of a commercial waterway to join the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Today, however, it is lined with a shaded cycle way and footpath and is enjoyed by cruisers from around the world.
How To Get There
The three-hour train ride from Gare de Lyon in Paris to Nimes will set you back $120-170. The 8¼ bus trip costs $31-56 but you must change buses in Lyon (service to Nimes twice daily).
Upscale Hotels in Nimes
TripAdvisor.com ($99-350): Novotel Atria Nimes Centre / Vatel Hotel & Spa / Jardins Secrets / Ibis budget Nimes Centre Gare / Hotel De L’Amphitheatre
Booking.com $107-144: Appart’City Confort Nimes Arenes / Best Western Marquis de la Baume / Novotel Atria Nimes Centre / Margaret – Hôtel Chouleur / (Only four hotels meeting criteria)
Renowned Restaurants in Languedoc-Roussillon
Duende (Nimes), Domaine d’Auriac (Carcassonne), La Table d’Uzès (Uzès), Restaurant De Lauzun (Pézenas), El Capillo (Collioure) … more top-rated restaurants in Nimes.
Alsace – Linking France to Germany
The Alsace lies on the plain between the Rhine River and the Vosges Mountains in eastern/northeastern France. It is more Germanic than French regarding its heritage, culture, and cuisine. Its villages of brightly painted, half-timbered, steep-roofed houses make it unlike any other region in France.
Although the population speaks French, a majority does it with a decidedly German accent. The cuisine is a blend of French and German (with such dishes as pork and sauerkraut being regional specialties), and many of the towns in the region have German names.
The region’s capital, Strasbourg, is the headquarters of the European Parliament. It has more of a feel of a central European city than a French one. Its historic center contains a magnificent Gothic cathedral, one of the most visited in France.
The Alsatian city of Mulhouse is a manufacturing center. Among its several sites worth visiting are the French National Railroad Museum, the Cité de l’Automobile and a car museum that contains the world’s largest collection of Bugatti’s.
In addition to its decidedly German-style cuisine, the Alsace is popular for its Muenster cheese, white wines and Kronenbourg beer.
How To Get There
It’s about a two-hour train ride from Paris (Paris Est station) to Strasbourg ($60-130). You can also drive (4½ hours) or take a bus (6¼ hours / $50-75).
Upscale Hotels in Alsace
Booking.com ($103-210): BOMA / Hotel Cour du Corbeau Strasbourg – Mgallery / Hotel Les Haras / Best Western Plus Monopole Métropole / Adagio Strasbourg Place Kleber
TripAdvisor.com ($99-191): BOMA / Hotel de L’Europe / Hotel D Strasbourg / Hotel Cour du Corbeau Strasbourg – Mgallery / Athena Hotel & Spa
Renowned Restaurants in Alsace
La Rochette (Labaroche), Zum Loejelgucker (Traenheim), Winstub du Chambard (Kaysersberg), Zuem Buerestuebel (Niederbronn-les-Bains), À l’Ami Fritz (Ottrott) … more top-rated restaurants in Alsace.
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